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The short- and long-term consequences of COVID-19 and continued lockdown on the economy and our mental, social and physical health are becoming more apparent. We are increasingly concerned about the most vulnerable in our society, particularly young people aged 16-24 who are experiencing homelessness or at risk.  The SPRINT project team is committed to using our research to help contribute in practical ways as well as inform policies that can bring about meaningful change.


​​With this in mind, Professor Jennifer Cumming and Dr Mary Quinton submitted a response to the government's May 2020 inquiry into how COVID-19 is impacting homelessness and the rented sector. Their recommendations are based on our 6+ years of our community-based research with our partners, St Basils, and identify how our co-designed toolkits can be implemented to support the health and well-being of young people experiencing homelessness during and after COVID-19.

Click the 'call for evidence' link below to find out more or check out our 3-part mini series on the Pandemic Response over on blog page. You can read about our other impact work using the links on the right.


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As part of the University of Birmingham's efforts to supporting the government's response to COVID-19, the SPRINT team are proud to have contributed our research and broader evidence for shaping bespoke responses to young people experiencing homelessness.

Below you can see recommendations Professor Cumming and Dr Quinton made in their response to government's call for evidence in the homelessness and private rented sector.

Government Question

What problems remain a current and immediate concern?

Mental Health Issues

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Widespread social isolation measures due to COVID-19 will have particularly impacted on young people without a stable and permanent home. With already much higher rates of anxiety, mood disorders and suicide attempts than typically housed peers, they are likely to experience elevated anxiety and depression during and immediately following social isolation

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Victimisation and Risky Behaviour 

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Homeless young people are at risk for assault, exploitation and abuse. Quarantine measures may increase their vulnerability to exploitation and abuse due to an inability to leave an unsafe living environment or lack of access to their normal levels of support. 

As quarantine continues, boredom, frustration, anger, and a lack of access to substances may lead homeless young people to break lockdown measures to meet with others socially. As these youth are at higher risk for infectious disease, this will not only put them and others at increased risk for infection and transmission of the virus, but also eviction from supported accommodation schemes due to rule breaking, leading to increased rough sleeping in this age group. 

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Our recommendations and response

With the focus having been on rough sleepers so far in this pandemic, we urge the Government to now consider the specific needs of young people aged 16-24 years who are homeless and living in temporary accommodation, most of whom will already have high and multiple complex needs. 

NHS mental health services are provided with adequate resource to give targeted preventative and early intervention support to homeless young people and prepare for an increase in the prevalence and severity of mental health problems in this group. 

The Government should provide additional resources to homeless accommodation and support services to ensure they have adequate staffing to cover the support needs of young people. 

Government Question

What might be the immediate post-lockdown impacts and what action is needed?

Lack of Employment Opportunities & Financial Difficulties

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Finding and getting into work is particularly tough for young people experiencing homelessness and approximately 44% are NEET. COVID-19 will likely increase the number of these young people becoming unemployed, especially for those on zero-hour contracts. This will likely increase financial worries of being able to pay rent and bills and put them at higher risk for eviction from private landlords and supported accommodation schemes.

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Dropping out of Education

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There is a strong association between homelessness and dropping out of education. Children who are homeless fall behind academically, and become socially isolated, anxious, and withdrawn. COVID-19 will likely increase young people at-risk of homelessness dropping out of education. Any form of homeschooling for these young people, who may be without parents or a caregiver (or might be young parents themselves), relies on them being proactive and self-regulated. These young people, understandably, may be pre-occupied with other challenges and not have the time, energy, or motivation to engage in independent learning during and post lockdown. Re-engaging in education once lockdown is lifted may be challenging due to worsening of their mental health, financial difficulties, unstable housing, or even grieving the loss of loved ones who died in the pandemic.

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Our recommendations and response

More so than ever before, there is a need for housing service to implement evidence-based approaches to address issues around a lack of employment opportunities, financial difficulties, and disengagement from education.

Psychologically Informed Environments

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Housing accommodation and support will need approaches that will effectively address the psychological and emotional needs of service users as they recover from the effects of COVID-19 and social isolation. Psychologically Informed Environments (PIE) is an approach that puts positive relationships at the heart of the approach for facilitating positive behaviour change. A PIE housing service helps young people to be resilient and thrive, not just survive difficult circumstances, resulting in better outcomes not just for young people but also for staff, including better mental health and engagement, increasing job satisfaction, and reducing job stress and burnout.

Mental Skills Training

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Mental skills training is another evidence-based approach, but focuses on improving young people’s resilience and well-being and engaging in education, employment, and training (EET) opportunities. An example is the My Strengths Training for Life™ (MST4Life™) programme co-developed by the University of Birmingham and St Basils. An independent economic evaluation reported MST4Life™ is addressing social inequalities - improving the likelihood of moving from NEET into EET and exiting homelessness by 37 percentage points, and contributing to a 27% reduction in Birmingham’s youth homelessness between 2013-2018. The learning from this programme has now been translated into three freely available resources (see our toolkit page).

The Government should recommend and provide resources to housing and support services so that they can adopt evidence-based approaches to supporting the psychological and emotional needs of homeless young people during and post lockdown.

Call for evidence


This impact case provides an overview of the MST4Life programme and how it has influenced young people, organisational practices, and the issue of youth homelessness. Click here to learn about the programme.


Conservative estimates suggest 80,000 young people are affected by homelessness each year

Our work with athletes led us to develop a mental skills training programme - MST4Life - for young people experiencing homelessness. MST4Life focuses on helping young people recognise and develop their personal strengths, to support their wellbeing and pursuit of their aspirations and social inclusion via engagement in education, employment and training.


Ultimately, our work aims to help reduce statutory homelessness in Birmingham and surrounding areas.

From day one, the design, delivery and evaluation have been co-produced with our community partners and young people themselves. Through an action research approach, we are constantly consulting with stakeholders to keep the programme and its evaluation relevant to those it serves.

See below for our impact within and beyond the youth homeless sector so far.


KEy impacts

MST4Life was the first sport psychology intervention to be delivered in a housing service for homeless young people with multiple barriers to independence

An independent evaluation found that MST4Life improved the likelihood that homeless young people transitioned into employment, education or training and independent tenancy by 30 percentage points (see our report below)

MST4Life has influenced jobs creation and workforce planning in a local youth homeless service who set up a new employability team. These new job roles include co-delivering MST4Life and the role of frontline support workers was also modified to include a more explicit remit to help young people develop their mental skills and employability prospects

Informing practice 

Our research has shown that the mental skills training (MST) approach used in sport settings can be adapted to improve the well-being and chances of employability for some of the most socially excluded young people with a range of support needs (e.g. expectant or young mothers, learning difficulties, behavioural difficulties, substance misuse)

We have found that adolescents require a diverse set of personal and interpersonal mental qualities to be successful performers, and that the nature, development and regulation of these psychological characteristics depends on the performer's developmental stage and social environment

We have also established the essential factors required to help reach and maintain engagement of homeless young people: be led by participants; provide opportunities to develop social connections, competence and independence; and be experiential, fun and group-based

MST4life the programme


The MST4Life programme includes 4 key stages. First, each programme starts with a stakeholder consultation to understand the specific needs of the young people and staff at a particular project better. From here, the main programme consists of two phases: 10 life skills workshops and a 4-day residential trip to an outdoors pursuit centre (see below for more detail). Finally, each programme is concluded with a follow-up meeting to receive feedback and see how the young people are progressing in the lives (2-3 months after phase 2).


In Phase 1 of the MST4Life programme, participants engage in 10 experientially-oriented sessions informed by both sports and clinical psychology.


These sessions are designed to be fun, allow participants to engage in a variety of ways, and focus on developing an awareness and practice of mental skills.

After Phase 1 of their MST4Life training programme, participants have an opportunity to attend a four-day residential in the Lake District

Alongside a range of outdoor adventure activities, participants take on a challenging hike in the mountains, putting their physical and mental skills to the test

Raising Awareness


Below you can find some examples of how our research has been disseminated, click links provided for more information.


St Basils Psychologically Informed Environment (PIE) Symposium 2018

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ESRC Festival of Social Sciences

Conference Room

Academic Dissemination

Cricket Stadium

St Basils-Warwickshire County Cricket Club Exchange

Read More


Below you can find examples of our research being evaluated, and cited in policy and guidance briefs 

Mental skills training toolkit policy brief

A policy briefing describing the Mental Skills Training Toolkit trilogy and how these resources may help in the context of COVID-19.

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This evaluation was conducted by Birmingham Business School, which examined the extent to which the MST4Life (and BOOST) programme has changed the trajectories of homeless young people who were NEET, and the cost benefit of these programmes.

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MST4Life policy briefing

A policy briefing describing the background and impact of the MST4Life programme

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This report represents the findings of the evaluation for the Transforming Pathways out of Care pilot project.

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This literature review aims to provide
context for the pilot evaluation of a
supported housing pathway for care leavers
with multiple and complex needs.

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Hospital staff
experiences of working with and parenting young people

This report describes findings and recommendations from an employee survey into job-related well-being and the Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals Trust Parenting Young People (PYP) programme workshops designed to support employees with parenting responsibilities or
who work with young adults.

housing LIN MST4Life case study

An overview of the novel approach taken by the MST4Life is provided in this case study published by the Housing Learning and Improvement Network


St Basils, a youth homelessness charity, published this guidance to help organisations better support young people who have had involvement with the criminal justice system, including reference to delivery of MST4Life as part of their transformational services

Closing the employment gap for young people

The MST4Life is featured in this toolkit as an example of best practice in helping young people, particularly those experiencing common mental health problems, to gain and stay in work.

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Youth Homelessness in the UK: A Review for the OVO Foundation

An influential review of homelessness research that mentions the MST4Life programme 

Cost effectivenes repor


Academic publications

See project lead Prof Jenn Cumming's website for a more extensive list of academic publications

Quinton, M.L., Clarke, F.J., Parry, B.J., & Cumming, J. (2021). An evaluation of My Strengths Training for LifeTM for improving resilience and well-being of young people experiencing homelessness. Journal of Community Psychology.

Parry, B.J., Thompson, J.T., Holland, M.J.G., Quinton, M.L., & Cumming, J. (2020). Improving outcomes in young people experiencing homelessness with My Strengths Training for LifeTM (MST4LifeTM): A qualitative realist evaluation. Children and Youth Services Review, 121, 105793.


Cooley, S.J., Quinton, M.L., Holland, M.J.G., Parry, B.J., & Cumming, J. (2019). The experiences of homeless youth when using strengths profiling to identify their character strengths. Frontiers, 24 Sep 2019. 


Cooley, S. J., Eves, F. E., Cumming, J., & Burns, V.E. (2018). “Hitting the ground running”: preparing groups for outdoor learning using a theoretically-based video. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning.

Cooley, S. J., Burns, V. E., & Cumming, J. (2016). Using outdoor adventure education to develop student groupwork skills: A quantitative exploration of reaction and learning. Journal of Experiential Education.

Cooley, S. J., Burns, V. E., & Cumming, J. (2015). The Role of Outdoor Education in Facilitating Groupwork in Higher Education. Higher Education.


Cooley, S. J., Cumming, J., Holland, M. J. G., & Burns, V. E. (2015). Developing the Model for Optimal Learning and Transfer (MOLT) following an evaluation of outdoor groupwork skills programmes. European Journal of Training and Development, 39, 104-121.

Cumming, J., Woodcock, C., Cooley, S. J., Holland, M. J. G., & Burns, V. E. (2015). Development and validation of the groupwork skills questionnaire. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 40, 988-101.

Cooley, S. J., Holland, M. J. G., Cumming, J., Novakovic, E. G., Burns, V. E. (2014). Introducing the use of a semi-structured video diary room to investigate students’ learning experiences during an outdoor adventure education groupwork skills course. Higher Education, 67, 105-121.

Sharp, L., Holland, M. J. G., Woodcock, C., Cumming, J., & Duda, J. L. (2013) A qualitative evaluation of a mental skills training program with youth athletes. The Sport Psychologist, 27, 219-232.


Woodcock, C., Holland, M. J. G., Duda, J. L., & Cumming, J. (2011). Psychological qualities and techniques relevant to young elite athletes: Significant other perceptions. The Sport Psychologist, 25, 411-443.

Holland, M. J., G., Woodcock, C., Cumming, J., & Duda, J. L. (2010). Mental qualities and employed mental techniques of young elite team sport athletes. Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, 4, 19-38.

Book chapters

Cumming, J., Skeate, A., & Templeton, J. (2018). Psychologically informed environment: enhancing St Basils’ homeless services for young people.  In J. Stewart & Z. Lynch (Eds), Environment Health and Housing: Issues for Public Health (pp. 31-32). Oxfordshire, UK: Routledge.

Cumming, J., & Cooley, S. (2018).  Mental health and the homeless: summary of MST4Life. In J. Stewart & Z. Lynch (Eds), Environment Health and Housing: Issues for Public Health (pp. 32-33). Oxfordshire, UK: Routledge.

Holland, M. J. G., Cooley, S. J., & Cumming, J. (in press). Identifying, measuring, and facilitating psychological skill development.  In C. Knight, C. Harwood, & D. Gould (Eds.), Sport Psychology for Young Athletes.  Oxfordshire, UK: Routledge.



Clarke, F.J., Quinton, M., Parry, B., Fenton, S.-J., & Cumming, J. (2020). Closing the knowledge to practice gap: Advancing strengths-based practice in youth homeless services through co-created knowledge translation. Birmingham, UK: Authors.



Whiting, R. J. Quinton, M. L., & Cumming, J. (2019). Transitions out of care for looked after children with multiple and complex needs: A literature review.  A report published by the University of Birmingham, UK: Authors.

Whiting, R. J., Cooley, S. J., Thomas, S., Quinton, M. L., & Cumming, J. (2019).  Transforming pathways out of care for 16/17 year olds: An evaluation report for the LGA children’s efficiency project.  A report published by the University of Birmingham, UK: Authors.


Cooley, S. J., Ridyard, S., Skeate, A., & Cumming, J. (2018).  Parenting young people: A scoping review of existing parenting interventions. A report published by the University of Birmingham, UK: Authors.

Cumming, J., Quinton, M. L., Cooley, S. J., Parry, B. J., Whiting, R., & Holland, M. J. G. (2018).  St Basils transformational model of youth services: Process evaluation.  A report published by the University of Birmingham, UK: Authors.


Cumming, J. (2017). Evaluation of St Basils Psychologically Informed Environments: Report on 2016 Staff Survey findings.  A report published by the University of Birmingham, UK: Authors.


Cooley, S. J., Quinton, M. L., Holland, M. J. G., Parry, B. J., & Cumming, J. (2016). MST4Life™ at St Basils: Year 2 report. Birmingham, UK: Authors.


Skeate, A., Cumming, J., Rutherford, D., Esien L, & Templeton, J. (2016). Parenting Young People: Report on a Psychologically Informed Parenting Programme. A report published by the University of Birmingham, UK. 


Cooley, S. J., Holland, M. J. G., Quinton, M. L., Parry, B. J., & Cumming, J. (2015). Mental skills training for life at St Basils: Year 1 report. Birmingham, UK: Authors.

Cumming, J., Cooley, S. J., Quinton, M. L., & Holland, M. J. G. (2015).  Mental Skills Training Evaluation Plan for St Basils. Birmingham, UK: Authors.


Cumming, J. Cooley, S. J., Quinton, M. L., Holland, M. J. G., Jabbour, L., & Skeate, A. (2015). Monday Trust Funding Evaluation Plan for St Basils. Birmingham, UK: Authors. 


Cumming, J., Cooley, S. J., Quinton, M. L., Serra de Quieroz, F., & Holland, M. J. G. (2015). Working together to develop mental skills training support for St Basils staff. Birmingham, UK: Authors.


Cooley, S. J., Holland, M. J. G., Quinton, M. L., Burns, V. E., & Cumming, J. (2014). Mental skills training in young people living at St Basils: An evaluation and recommendations following a pilot programme. Birmingham, UK: Authors.

Cumming, J., & Cooley, S. J. (2014). Plan for Implementing Mental Skills Training within BOOST 2014-2017.  Birmingham, UK: Author.

Cumming, J., Quinton, M. L., & Holland, M. J. G. (2014). Recommendations for enhancing mental skills of young people living at St Basils: Results of a training needs analysis. Birmingham, UK: Authors.

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